The best surprises are the ones you truly haven’t the slightest inkling about. Like booting up a game with a horrendous title, such as Unforeseen Incidents, and then being blown away by just how damn good it is. This isn’t just a point-and-click, it’s a serious return to puzzle solving which wouldn’t feel out of place if LucasArts had slapped a logo on it. You’ll scour the environment for items. You’ll smash objects together when it looks like it might make sense to do so. You’ll chat to various people with numerous problems that need solving. All of the staples are here, but while these essentials might make for a half-decent adventure game, what lifts it further is an intriguing story delivered by a wonderful voice cast.
Yelltown’s handyman Harper Pendrell is the game’s protagonist, an electronics tinkerer who comes across an outbreak of a mysterious disease in his small town. After watching the effects of the illness first-hand, he wastes no time in getting help from his Scottish scientist friend Rupert, and intrepid local reporter Jane to find out what is happening. Who is the medical company with an emergency number being plastered on posters all over town? How did the disease start? And is there anything that can be done to stop it?
It may sound grim, but the mood of the game is generally light. Matthew Curtis imbues Harper’s lines with a delivery on the right side of wry. He’s a genuinely affable chap, and the same can be said for most of the population you’ll meet. It’s often too easy for the focus of a point-and-click’s writing to get sucked into a protagonist’s personality, rather than the overall game. If a main character is mean for no reason, it doesn’t make playing them fun. The opposite is true here: Harper wants to help, and will go out of his way to do so. Sure, there are quips galore and funny asides as he recalls how his life hasn’t really turned out the way he hoped, but he’s never malicious. His relationships with the townsfolk seem believable, just as his friendships with a hotel manager and the guy who looks after the local dump feel real.
In establishing this baseline for the main character being a good egg, the game takes a natural next step in making the puzzles fit into the world. If Harper needs car parts but his buddy at the scrapheap wants a drink in return, who is Harper to say no? When the hotel receptionist laments the fact that he’s missing a huge sports game, it seems fitting for Harper to fix up a battered TV to help him watch it — and get access to the hotel’s guest book and phone at the same time. You’ll pick up a lot of items on your travels and while most of them will be used some of them will remain as red herrings, or simply set dressing. They all add to the small town atmosphere while establishing Harper as a competent guy who can turn his hand to most things. Even so, the puzzles you’ll encounter are usually logical and a combination of careful listening to Harper’s prompts or eagle-eyed perusal of the environments and the items you’re carrying will usually see you through. There are a couple of exceptions later on which felt like they relied a little too much on trial and error, but these are blips in an otherwise excellent set of challenges.
We’ve mentioned the voice acting, but its quality should be reiterated alongside the stunning hand-inked art style and the music: you simply won’t expect the game to be as good as this, especially given it’s delivered by a tiny indie outfit. Backwoods Entertainment has created not just one, but two versions of the script — one for their native German base, and one crafted by comedian Alasdair Beckett-King. It’s a smart move, sidestepping the awkwardness of translating cross-Channel humour to an English audience. Beckett-King has experience in the genre too, having created the lovely Nelly Cootalot. The script is sharp enough to handle an array of jokes, most of which hit their mark, and some of which are laugh-out-loud funny. Yet none of them are at the expense of another person for the sake of cheap giggles.
The story itself draws from the likes of 80s and 90s conspiracy shows like Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Millennium and so on, though while that seam has been mined over the years, Unforeseen Incidents takes that familiarity and rolls with it, sometimes throwing up some shocking twists you wouldn’t expect from an otherwise amiable adventure. It isn’t short either, clocking in at around ten hours which feels generous for the modest outlay.
Where the game does fall short is in its rough edges: the constant back and forth between locales, an inventory which is often excruciating to use (we’re looking at you, multi-tool) and an ending that doesn’t quite do justice to the high bar the rest of the game sets. Even so, this is a point-and-click for true fans of the stable, and one that took us completely unawares. We’d expected a competent entry into a crowded genre, but the release of an adventure game this good? That’s an incident we simply didn’t foresee.